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It's All History by Jon Malek

Kwentong Bayan

A graphic history of Filipino immigration to Canada

By Jon Malek

In my past two columns, I discussed my interview with Diwa Marcelino of Migrante Manitoba, highlighted the major work that Migrante does, and discussed some broader issues facing temporary (Filipino) workers in Manitoba. This issue is of great interest and importance to many in the Filipino community, as it affects many in one way or another – and it is one that frequents the pages of the Pilipino Express. This month, I’d like to keep attention on this topic by discussing a recent graphic history called “Kwentong Bayan: A Labour of Love.” This short project was released recently by the Graphic History Collective.

This graphic history depicts the history of Filipino caregiving in Canada, while giving the reader a sense of some of the issues faced by these workers. As the Graphic History Collective states, Kwentong Bayan is “a community based graphic history book project” created by Althea Balmes (illustrator) and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo (writer) of Toronto. What is unique about this project is that Filipina migrant workers were an important part of its creation.

As the project website states (link below), this “accessible resource” highlights the stories of Filipina caregivers that do not always make the mainstream news. The link for this great graphic history is below, and instead of summarizing it here I encourage you all to support this project, read the short graphic history, and share it.

This graphic history highlights many issues that face Filipina migrants who enter Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program and its predecessors, as well as some problems that have characterized these programs. One of the first points is that, when domestic workers from the Philippines began arriving in Canada following the 1973 introduction of the Temporary Employment Authorization Program, they were not granted landed immigrant status. This meant that the workers – almost all women – were forced to live in Canada alone and without their family. However, before this program, domestic workers (mainly from Europe) were granted such status.

Why was this right revoked?

Some critical scholars have argued this was the result of lingering racial prejudice in the Canadian immigration system, as emerging global migration patterns meant that more domestics from the Caribbean and Asia were arriving in Canada. One activist group, INTERCEDE, has argued that this program quickly became “a revolving door of exploitation … live-in domestic work has become the preserve of third-world women – a captive labour force which could be discarded of at will” (Cohen, 1994). This is in reference to the fact that, after five years, the domestic worker was ordered out of Canada without the ability to apply for landed status; furthermore, the employer could terminate a caregiver’s job without warning, at which point she was forced out of the country.

This graphic history demonstrates how, despite entering Canada alone and without social networks, Filipinas in Toronto quickly formed support groups to help each other. One example was the Philippine National Day picnic held in Toronto from 1979 to 2001, which gave current and former Filipina caregivers the opportunity to share and celebrate their contributions to Canadian society. The graphic history has a powerful quote: “Many are former caregivers who volunteer with newcomers. They are doing outreach today … and now caregivers are community leaders!” These formal and informal social support and advocacy groups provided vital avenues of integration for newcomers from the Philippines, while building solidarity among domestic workers and caregivers. Research has shown that, especially for Filipinos, these informal social networks are more effective forms of integration to Canadian society than other government and community programs (Bonifacio, 2009). The power of these groups, as well as other advocacy groups such as Caribbean workers, in part led to the implementation of a new domestic worker program in 1979 that allowed workers to apply for landed status after 24 months of work, a feature that was to make the Live-in Caregiver program so attractive until recent immigration reforms in November 2014.

The graphic history also refers to the case of Juana Tejada, a caregiver who fought to stay in Canada for cancer treatment after the government ordered her deportation. Her story caught global attention, and was told on the long running show Maalaala mo Kaya in 2011, staring Maricar Reyes and Dimples Romana. In the graphic history, one character points out the bitter irony of Juana’s story when she states, “For years, we care for our employers, their children and elderly parents…when they get sick, we are in demand. When we get sick, we become a burden.” As another character questions, “Why don’t people ask why so many live-in caregivers are dealing with chronic illnesses?” Most likely, this is because people in Canada generally do not know. And, of course, these illnesses are both physical and mental. In some countries, there are actual disorders referred to as Caregiver Illness, which refers to the acute psychological stresses caregivers can experience.

These are important stories that need to be shared, and that need to be understood by Canadian society more widely. I highly recommend that readers of the Pilipino Express share this graphic history with others via social media. One of the biggest problems facing temporary foreign workers in Canada is not a lack of caring or of apathy from the wider population, but rather an ignorance of their plight; these little projects can go a long way in spreading awareness and further pressing our government of the day for meaningful changes.

As Kwentong Bayan’s website states, “‘Labour of Love’ reflects this team’s understanding that community-based artwork and caregiving work is rooted in love, is valuable, and deserves respect.”


  • (Kwentong Bayan site)
  • Glenda Bonifacio, “From Temporary Workers to Permanent Residents: Transitional services for Filipino live-in caregivers in Southern Alberta,” Our Diverse Cities (2009).
  • Rina Cohen “A Brief History of Racism in Immigration Policies for Recruiting Domestics,” Canadian Women Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme 14 no. 2 (1994)

Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program. Jon’s research endeavours to document the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community through archival research and interviews. Jon is happy to hear from community members interested in sharing their experiences of life in Winnipeg. He can be contacted at and information on the project can be found at

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